Actor Ryan Phillippe is always looking for new opportunities to flex his creativity in his comedic roles, and what better way than someone he came into the industry with than Justin Long, who co-writes and co-directed with his brother Christian Long. The film follows a flatulent, aimless ne'er-do-well who becomes a tour guide in a historic estate and winds up befriending the manor's resident ghost. I spoke with the actor, who plays Tanner about working with the Long brothers, his co-stars Melanie Lynskey and Judy Greer, and the inspiration behind his character.
"I've known Justin for a long time," the Big Sky star said. "We were about the same age, and we've kind of come up in this industry together and have always been friendly. So he reached out to me personally, saying that he and his brother had written a script that they were going to co-direct, and asked if I take a look? I said, 'Of course.' Then once I started reading it, I found myself laughing on every page. I've always liked Justin's work as a comedic actor and always dug his sense of humor. That's certainly what dictated the shape of the script. He and his brother, who are very similar…their relationship is incredible. They're kind of like two parts of the same person in some ways. They had offered me this character of Tanner. It's rare I get to play comedic roles or get to play parts like this, and I immediately had all these ideas of how this guy should look and like 'I wanted to wear pastels, Justin.' I want to wear like pinks and blues and like all these. I'm like, 'Is it OK if I get a fake tan? I feel like this guy would get spray tan.' So it just kind of sparked all these sorts of creative ideas within me, and I wanted to support him. I thought the script was so funny, and he told me that they had Melanie Lynskey and Judy Greer, who were two actors that I've always admired and wanted to work with, and that was it. I was on board."
Phillippe felt fortunate to film Lady of the Manor before the pandemic shutdown of productions industry-wide. "This was the last [project] we all did before COVID took over the world," he said. "So it was a lot more social than the experience on set is now because you're encouraged not to expose yourself unnecessarily. So there was a freedom than that sort of evaporated. We did spend time outside of the set going to dinners or having drinks together and having laughs. We would talk about the characters in that capacity. Making independent films is tough because of limited financial resources and a packed schedule. When you're on set with people this funny and that you enjoy spending time around, you're kind of not aware of that anymore. You're just having a laugh throughout the day. It's fun for me to play characters. There's a lot of freedom that comes with playing like a supporting comedic role like Tanner, as opposed to being the protagonist in a drama or an action piece where there's tend to be a lot of rules about as far as being a leading man and being relatable. With this guy, I didn't have to consider any of that. I could be obnoxious or silly as I wanted to be."
When it comes to what inspiration Phillippe drew from for Tanner, he evoked one iconic role from a 1999 cult classic and a memorable FOX/Netflix comedy. "[Tanner] was very specifically written a certain way," he said. "So a lot of it was in the writing. I think there are elements, a little bit of connective tissue between this character and like Sebastian in Cruel Intentions where you're playing like a rich guy who doesn't think the rules apply to him. With Tanner, the difference is I don't think he's very bright, and also, it seems like he hasn't evolved beyond college-age even though he's a guy in his late 30s, early 40s, he's still there's the element of Arrested Development about him where he's like kind of hasn't evolved or matured at all. That to me is very funny as well, but I didn't base that on anybody in specific. Growing up without a lot of money, which was my life, I went to school or knew people who had money that tended to act in a certain type of way, and maybe I use some of that in this character." Lionsgate's Lady of the Manor is currently available in select theaters, on digital, on-demand, Blu-ray, and DVD.